Monday, September 30, 2013

"War Horse" in Vancouver

I was excited to see "War Horse", the stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo's novel. What makes the play unique is the fact that the central character is Joey, a horse, who goes to war with the British cavalry in 1914. Brought to life by the amazing puppets that play the horses, as designed by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, the horses steal the show. They buck and rear, they snort, and they gallop--straight toward the audience in a sequence that transports watchers to the bitter fields of artillery-torn France.
There are explosions and gunfire aplenty, and a strong scene where Joey is caught on the wire in No Man's Land. The novel was written for young readers and comes with a Hollywood ending, with many a tear trickling down cheeks in the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.
The performance I attended was a matinee, so I wondered for a while if there might not be school children attending, but that was not the case. There was an awful lot of grey hair on display, with most members of the audience middle-aged or older. Too bad, as there is lots in the story to hint at some of our at times bloody history.

To read my prize-winning novel about real war horses, and the men that rode them, see "Soldier of the Horse" here.

Monday, September 23, 2013

H.M.S. UNSEEN--Fact and Fiction--Part Two of Two

In Part One of this post, I mentioned the historical fact that the Unseen was an actual Royal Navy submarine, and the subject of the novel of the same name by Patrick Robinson. Now owned by the Royal Canadian Navy and renamed HMCS Victoria, the stealthy boat has been tested under realistic conditions, firing a torpedo at and sinking a decommissioned U.S. ship; for an image, click here.

Author Robinson made good use of his expert adviser, the late Admiral Sandy Woodward. He describes in great detail the locale and routine of an RN submarine doing workups in the English Channel, and does a good job of putting the reader on board a modern diesel-electric boat. One of his characters is a retired Royal Navy admiral and former Teacher of the Perisher, the submarine Commanding Officers Qualifying Course. It was not a great surprise that in my mind at least Robinson's "Teacher" bore many similarities to Sandy Woodward.

As a very junior submarine officer on board H.M.C.S. Alderney, I had the honour of seeing the then Commander Woodward in action in his role as Teacher. It is a certainty that no terrorist would have taken one of his boats.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

H.M.S. UNSEEN--Fact and Fiction--Part One of Two

Not long ago I picked up a copy of H.M.S. UNSEEN, by Patrick Robinson. Robinson is a prolific bestselling author, and for this book he had expert help from the late Admiral Sir John "Sandy" Woodward, former Perisher Teacher, Flag Officer Submarines, and commander of the Hermes aircraft carrier group in the Falklands in1982.
Robinson's novel is a naval thriller right up there with Tom Clancy's "The Hunt for Red October", stretching the bounds of modern submarine warfare only marginally. What is particularly interesting is that there was a real H.M.S. Unseen. In his Acknowledgments, the author describes the Unseen as "a stealthy Royal Navy submarine, now being leased to an overseas government...". Quite correct as far as it goes. In the novel, the boat is leased to Brazil, highjacked by a middle-eastern terrorist, and the story carries on from there.
Reality is different. H.M.S. Unseen was actually sold to the Royal Canadian Navy, and is now proudly defending Canada as H.M.C.S. Victoria.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

"Soldier of the Horse" Gallops On

I've been expending a lot of time recently on my upcoming but as yet unnamed submarine thriller (working title "Sailor Down"), but there is a temporary hiatus as I await the first round of edits.
So in the meantime it's a chance to check up on how my prize-winning first novel, "Soldier of the Horse", is doing. Recent highlights:
* Recent acquisition of audiobook rights by Amazon's
* "Bestseller" following an appearance at the marvellous Winnipeg bookstore McNally Robinson
* A very successful day of sales and signing books at the Country Pedlar, Interlakes, in the Cariboo
* An email from a Bolivian jungle animal refuge park volunteer saying how much she was enjoying "Soldier of the Horse"
* A very enthusiastic comment from a retired Canadian Army colonel
* A scheduled return engagement to speak about the book and horses in World War I at the Surrey Museum on November 11, Remembrance Day. For details click here.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Death of a Kilo--Part Two of Two

The Kilo-class Russian submarines have been very successful for the Soviets and now the Russians. The Russian navy  has some seventeen Kilos in service, with more in reserve. More than thirty have been exported to countries like China, India, and Poland. Here is a cutaway view of a typical Kilo.

Note the two battery compartments low in the boat, one forward and one aft of the periscopes. As a diesel-electric boat, the Kilo has to charge its batteries by running its diesel engines to provide propulsion. According to one newspaper report, that was just what the INS Sindhurakshak was doing after midnight in the early hours of August 14th, 2013, when something went wrong.

There was a fire on board, and some of the boat's ordnance blew up. It is not clear at this point whether the fire preceded or followed the explosions. It may be that the causation of both fire and explosions was hydrogen gas given off by a battery, which did cause an earlier fire in 2010 in the same boat. In any event, the Indian navy is left with a tragedy to deal with. Eighteen officers and men were killed, and can only be identified by DNA analysis. And the Sindhurakshak remains on the bottom, alongside in Mumbai Harbour, most of her munitions still on board and perhaps just waiting to explode. Not a happy place to be engaged in a salvage operation.

One newspaper account has the Russian navy, who carried out the very extensive refit 2010-2012, stating that a possible cause of the explosions and fire is human error. No doubt the Indian navy will be reviewing the refit and whether there was a design or installation fault involved.

A board of inquiry has yet to report.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Death of a Kilo--Part One of Two

Wednesday, August 14th, just after midnight, a hideous fireball lit the night sky over the Mumbai, India waterfront. It signalled the deaths of eighteen submariners, officers and crew members of the Indian navy’s submarine INS Sindhurakshak. The blast was felt around the world in the submarine community, as is every serious submarine accident.  
A Kilo class boat built in Russia, the Sindhurakshak was commissioned in 1997, undergoing an extensive refit in 2010-2012. 
 Pictured here during a visit to Portsmouth, England, the boat when operational would carry a crew of 52 officers and men.
Slightly larger than the Canadian navy’s Victoria-class, the Kilos have similar characteristics and capabilities in terms of antisurface and antisubmarine warfare. In both classes the main weapon is the 21-inch torpedo, although the Kilos are also fitted with cruise missiles designed to target surface ships.
It is noteworthy that the extensive refit was necessitated by a fire that occurred on board in 2010 with the loss of a life. Later, it was reported that the fire had been caused by an explosion in the submarine's battery compartment. Battery compartment fires are usually caused by a buildup and explosion of hydrogen, a constant source of risk for submariners.